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One of Trump’s Oldest Tactics in Business and Politics: I’m Rubber. You’re Glue.

One of Trump’s Oldest Tactics in Business and Politics: I’m Rubber. You’re Glue.


Days earlier than the Iowa caucuses, former President Donald J. Trump is showing twice in courtroom this week — on Tuesday in Washington and Thursday in New York.

He was not required to attend both listening to. But advisers say he believes the courtroom appearances dramatize what’s quick turning into a central theme of his marketing campaign: that President Biden — who’s describing the doubtless Republican nominee as a peril to the nation — is the true menace to American democracy.

Mr. Trump’s declare is essentially the most outlandish and baseless model of a tactic he has used all through his life in enterprise and politics. Whenever he’s accused of one thing — it doesn’t matter what that one thing is — he responds by accusing his opponent of that actual factor. The thought is much less to argue that Mr. Trump is clear than to counsel that everybody else is soiled.

It is an impulse greater than a technique. But in Mr. Trump’s campaigns, that impulse has typically aligned together with his political pursuits. By this mind-set, the extra cynical voters turn into, the extra doubtless they’re to throw their palms within the air, declare, “They’re all the identical” and begin evaluating the 2 candidates on points the marketing campaign sees as favorable to Mr. Trump, just like the economic system and immigration.

His flattening ethical relativism has undergirded his strategy to just about each aspect of American public life, together with democracy.

In 2017, when the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly described President Vladimir Putin of Russia as a “killer,” Mr. Trump responded that there have been “quite a lot of killers,” including, “Well, you assume our nation is so harmless?”

And within the 2016 marketing campaign, Mr. Trump utilized the “I’m rubber, you’re glue” strategy to a variety of vulnerabilities.

When Mr. Trump was described by voters as racist in polls after, amongst different issues, he described undocumented immigrants from Mexico as “rapists,” he claimed that his rival, Hillary Clinton, was the true “bigot.”

When Mrs. Clinton instructed he was temperamentally unfit to be entrusted with the nation’s nuclear codes, Mr. Trump declared her “set off blissful” and “very unstable.”

When Mrs. Clinton referred to as Mr. Trump a “puppet” of Mr. Putin throughout one in every of their normal election debates, Mr. Trump interrupted: “No puppet. You’re the puppet.”

A spokesman for Mr. Trump didn’t reply to requests for remark.

For years, Mr. Trump championed and breathed life into the beforehand fringe “birther” motion that falsely claimed Barack Obama had been born in Kenya and was subsequently an illegitimate president. When he lastly renounced the conspiracy principle out of political expediency shortly earlier than Election Day in 2016, he falsely claimed that it was Mrs. Clinton who had began attacking the primary Black president with that assertion.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas — “Lyin’ Ted,” Mr. Trump had dubbed him — was a sufferer of this Trumpian tactic within the 2016 Republican presidential primaries at a time when Mr. Trump was being referred to as out for nearly fixed falsehoods. Mr. Cruz as soon as summarized the injustice in a match of indignation, saying of Mr. Trump: “He lies — virtually each phrase that comes out of his mouth. And in a sample that I feel is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everyone else of mendacity.”

Now, Mr. Trump is repurposing his favored device to neutralize what many see as his worst offense in public life and best political vulnerability within the 2024 marketing campaign: his efforts, after he misplaced the 2020 election, to disrupt the peaceable switch of energy and stay in workplace.

And his marketing campaign equipment has kicked into gear together with him, as he baselessly claims Mr. Biden is stage-managing the investigations and authorized motion in opposition to him. Mr. Trump’s advisers have coined a slogan: “Biden Against Democracy.” The acronym: BAD.

Steve Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, stated he thought his onetime shopper was on to one thing. Mr. Trump is now preventing Mr. Biden over a difficulty that many Republican consultants and elected officers had hoped he would keep away from. They had good motive, provided that candidates selling election denial and conspiracy theories in regards to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol price their party winnable races within the 2022 midterm elections.

Mr. Bannon sees it in another way.

“If you may battle Biden virtually to a draw on this, which I feel you may, it’s over,” Mr. Bannon stated in an interview, referring to the imperiling of American democracy. “He’s bought nothing else he can pitch. This is his fundamental factor.”

Mr. Bannon added, “If Biden needs to battle there, about democracy and all this type of ephemeral stuff, Trump will go there in a second.”

It was Mr. Bannon who pushed for Mr. Trump to “go on offense” after a tape leaked of him boasting to the TV host Billy Bush about grabbing ladies’s genitals. Mr. Bannon helped prepare for 3 ladies who had accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual harassment or assault to join Mr. Trump at a news conference shortly earlier than a debate with Mrs. Clinton. It created a disorienting impact at a second of acute vulnerability for Mr. Trump.

“You’ve bought to recollect one thing,” Mr. Bannon stated of the Trump marketing campaign’s “Biden Against Democracy” gambit. “This is the entire motive he’s really working: to say he believes that, burned into his soul, is the 2020 election was stolen, and that Jan. 6 was a setup by the F.B.I.”

It’s unclear whether or not Mr. Trump really believes that Jan. 6 was orchestrated by the “deep state.” His explanations of that day have shifted opportunistically, and he was a relative latecomer to the baseless far-right conspiracy principle that the Capitol riot was an inside job by the F.B.I.

Mr. Trump has additionally sought to muddy the waters on voter considerations about corruption, by making an attempt, alongside together with his allies, to neutralize his liabilities on that entrance by attacking Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, for international moneymaking whereas his father was vice chairman.

But a few of Mr. Trump’s advisers assume there may be much less to achieve from the Hunter Biden angle than from the “Biden Against Democracy” theme. They acknowledge that Hunter Biden will not be the president and doubt the difficulty will transfer voters considerably with out the emergence of a connection to the president sturdy sufficient to persuade Senate Republicans who stay skeptical that there’s a foundation for impeachment.

Mr. Trump has additionally privately expressed concern about overplaying private assaults on the president’s son to such an extent that they backfire and make Mr. Biden appear like a caring father, in response to an individual who has heard Mr. Trump make these remarks.

In a 2020 normal election debate, Mr. Trump made such an error, when he mocked Hunter Biden’s previous drug use, prompting a humanizing response from Mr. Biden: “My son, like lots of people, like lots of people you understand at dwelling, had a drug drawback. He’s overtaken it. He’s mounted it. He’s labored on it. And I’m happy with him.”

Mr. Trump and his advisers are hoping to do greater than paper over his liabilities associated to his election lies and the violent assault on the Capitol, which Democrats are assured stay deeply troubling to a majority of voters. They hope they will persuade voters that Mr. Biden is definitely the issue.

Voter attitudes associated to Mr. Biden have shifted as Mr. Trump has tried to counsel that efforts to carry Mr. Trump accountable for his actions are a menace to democracy. In an October 2022 New York Times/Siena College poll, amongst voters who stated democracy was underneath menace, 45 % noticed Mr. Trump as a serious menace to democracy, in contrast with 38 % who stated the identical about Mr. Biden. The hole was even wider amongst impartial voters, who had been 14 share factors extra more likely to see Mr. Trump as such a menace.

But Mr. Trump’s rhetoric appears to have already altered public opinion, even earlier than the marketing campaign deployed his new slogan. In one other more moderen survey, 57 % of Americans stated Mr. Trump’s re-election would pose a menace to democracy, and 53 % stated the identical of Mr. Biden, in response to an August 2023 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute. Among impartial voters, almost similar shares thought both candidate could be a menace to democracy.

The repetition that Mr. Trump has used persistently in his public speeches is a core a part of his strategy.

“If individuals assume he’s inconsistent on message, he ain’t inconsistent on this message,” Mr. Bannon stated of Mr. Trump’s effort to model Mr. Biden as the true menace to democracy. “Go again and simply have a look at how he kilos it. Wash, rinse, repeat. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s very highly effective.”

David Axelrod, a former high adviser to Mr. Obama, stated polling indicated Mr. Trump had “made headway together with his base on this challenge.” But a normal election, he stated, is a “tougher” race to persuade folks that his lies about Jan. 6, 2021, are true.

It is “one of many causes he’s so determined to push the Jan. 6 trial previous the election,” Mr. Axelrod stated of the federal indictment charging Mr. Trump with conspiracy to defraud the United States.

“A parade of witnesses, together with his personal high aides, White House legal professionals and advisers, testifying, adopted by a responsible verdict, would injury him exterior the bottom,” Mr. Axelrod stated.

Ruth Igielnik contributed reporting.

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